The Devil visits 1930's Moscow and raises holy hell with the Stalinists. He and his helpers aren't evil, just zany, providing biting satire along with madcap antics. This is good writing, with lots of poetic images in the prose. Underneath it all is a celebration of a human spirit that can't be crushed.
There's a love story mixed in too, written straight. Plus there are long sober sections on Pontius Pilate and Jesus, providing Bulgakov a way to compare the Soviet State with the Roman Empire. A Polish friend said this was the part he liked the best -- how Pontius Pilate weighed his options is how Poland had been ruled.
The book is NOT a difficult read or listen, but there are a lot of things that those of us in current-day America wouldn't normally get. Bulgakov's use of odd justapoxitions of events can seem disorienting to us, until we put it in the backdrop of the Expressionist movement of the time, with its exaggerated colors and ordinary things displayed out of context. (The Penguin hardcopy book uses an example for its cover.)
The satire may be hard for us to recognize too, but that's part of the book's value, figuring out why this book couldn't be published for decades and why it became so wildly popular in Eastern Europe when it was. Fortunately, there are excellent on-line resources that help explain.
The 2005 Russian TV mini-series is an excellent supplement too, all eight hours of it. The quality of the this production is much better than you expect from TV. (There are more naked ladies in this show than you can shake a stick at, so you may want to be selective about who you watch it with.)
The narration of the Naxos audiobook is wonderful. Some other negative reviewers just may not like to have fun.
The narrator reads naturally, avoiding the temptation to overemphasize the beat. A poem like this can sound trivial and be tiring if the rhythm isn't controlled.
At first I was surprised by the lack of polish in Sam Waterston's narration, for example, you can hear him inhaling at the end of sentences and he provides no change of voice to emphasize characters or moods. However, I quickly concluded that the narration was perfect for this philosophical novella about fate, love, and life. It is like a wise and favorite uncle talking to you. I found it comforting and soothing, as befitting the message of the final section of the book.
This book provides an excellent review of the history of development of economic theory from Adam Smith on down. There are many histories of this type, but this one puts it together better than anything similar that I am familiar with. The author becomes a bet polemical at the end with his admonitions against regulation, which is OK as long as you immediately turn to The Trillion Dollar Meltdown for another view.
This book provides a considerable amount of background information for the current economic meltdown -- good history of the past few decades and an explanation of all the financial tools that we read about, but few of us understand. Regulation is needed to prevent excess from happening again.
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